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In all my years of working at the morgue, the lunch breaks are the most agonizing. Nothing is less appealing that feasting on a ham-and-cheese sandwich with the knowledge that dead bodies are piled on tables, awaiting wooden boxes to cart them six feet under, no more than a few feet away. The break room doubled as an overflow storage room, and contained nothing more than several old, dusty beanbag chairs and a worn-down workroom TV. It only got about six channels, so I rarely watched it at all on my lunch breaks.
However, there was a day when, while channel-surfing, I stumbled across an interesting fellow performing on a local talk show, just a few blocks from the city morgue itself. For working in a place filled with the dead, you'd think I'd be immune to anything childlike in nature; alas, my heart always held a soft spot for magic and whimsical ventures like it. I was not surprised to find myself fascinated by this man on the television.
Leon the Great, he called himself. Self-proclaimed escape artist and illusionist extraordinaire. His tricks were interesting, to say the least, going far beyond what a normal escape artist would consider the norm. One of his favorites was to make his eyeballs disappear, or to have his ears hemorrhage on cue. He'd often fillet his own stomach flesh with a pair of scissors, only to reattach it seamlessly, as if by magic. His tricks were gruesome, but still intriguing enough to draw one in. At the end of each of his showings on local news stations and talk shows, I'd never fail to ask myself "How does he do that?"
Each time he made an appearance, he upped the ante just a bit more. He soon took to sliding spikes through his hands and arms and healing the holes instantaneously. He'd climb into an incinerator, turn it to full blast and emerge completely unharmed. He once even slipped a particularly long one down his throat, pushing it out of a very delicate part of his lower body, and withdrawing it unharmed. In any other program, I would be completely repulsed, perhaps even vomit at the sight of his disgusting tricks. Nevertheless, I continued flipping the workroom TV to that channel each day.
It seemed, though, that Leon himself didn't think the public was interested enough. It became a local, hushed rumor that he'd been practicing making children disappear. Small, curious kids who'd been entranced enough to follow the illusionist backstage, hoping for a chance to inquire about how he did his revolting yet mesmerizing tricks, had gone missing for days at a time before turning up, mentally scarred and unable to speak. Adults didn't dare inquire what they'd been told...or what he'd practiced on them.
His grand finale, however, wasn't planned at all. Driven mad by the overwhelming impulse to know how his tricks were performed, several angry townsmembers ganged together and planned an assault on Leon the Great himself. Trekking to his home, they barged in, ambushing the sleeping magician and delivering harsh blows to his head with metal baseball bats, impaling his stomach with wooden stakes, slicing his throat with butcher knives. No one, not even Leon himself, could've survived the gruesome things they'd done to him. The culprits were never identified.
When Leon arrived at the morgue, guess who was in charge of fixing him up? I found myself draining his blood, doing his makeup, tentatively suturing his gaping gashes and wounds. No matter what I did, though, I knew this was a closed-casket funeral for sure. Deep down, I was infuriated. I would never know the secrets of his tricks.
The morgue decided it was better not to make the funeral public, for fear that Leon's gravesite would attract hordes of people driven mad by the secrets of his trickery. A secretive gravesite was chosen. On the day of the funeral itself, the morgue's employees are required to pay their respects separately before burial, at least in the morgue where I worked. After a prayer for the dead, a final check is required to make sure all qualifications for burial have been fulfilled. Me having the strongest stomach, I was elected to double-check that Leon was packaged and sutured the best he could be.
Upon opening the coffin, the room gasped in both sickened intrigue and shock as we were greeted by blood still freshly dripping from the box, despite Leon having been drained. Within the box were an assortment of severed ears, toes, fingers, eyes, intestines, livers, nails...practically anything that could be taken by force from the body found itself soaked in a bloody salad in the box. And Leon? Nowhere to be seen.
To this day Leon's body has not been found, and the children still go missing every now and then. Once in a blue moon, every eleventh child or so, they'll come back missing something important. An earlobe, perhaps, or a pinky. They are never more terrified, though, when they're not sure what they're missing. When they're not sure how he did it.